Can a failure to file a pretrial motion equal ineffective assistance of counsel? The BLUF is yes in some cases. In some instances I have argued IAC on appeal for failing to make a meritorious motion. The NMCCA has issued an interesting opinion in United States v. Spurling, in which they discuss this important issue. The opinion appears to be an en banc one although not labeled as such – Sr. Judge Ward writes for a majority of five, with three dissenters in an opinion written by Judge King. The issue of IAC for failure to raise a pretrial motion is neither novel nor rare. Many of my appellate clients raise a question about why the defense counsel didn’t fil a particular motion. I am about to file one in a case (citing United States v. Grostefon) where the client complains that the defense counsel did not file a motion to dismiss certain charges. A more common issue is a motion to suppress, or speedy trial, or UCI.
- Spurling claimed IAC because his counsel did not litigate his admissions. Interestingly both counsel admitted they didn’t even catch the issue: [Counsel] failed to “recognize the issue based on [her] lack of experience, the work load at the time, and never having argued an Article 31 issue[.]”
- Capt B concurs, stating that had the issue occurred to him “[he] would have proposed filing it.”